Helping Hands for Homeless in Hawaii

Gov. Neil Abercrombie calls on citizens to direct homeless people to medical, mental and housing services.
by | April 28, 2011

For the homeless in Hawaii, good help shouldn't be hard to find.

With that belief, Gov. Neil Abercrombie is asking residents on all major islands to help report homeless people who may need intervention to a network of service providers, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports. And with that, he hopes to help solve the issue of homelessness, which has been a dark cloud looming over the Aloha State for years.

"There's nothing more demoralizing in the community than to see someone obviously in need and not know what to do about it," Abercrombie told the Star-Advertiser. "If you want to send your child to a public library and you're fearful of being able to do that because the sidewalks are occupied by people outside the library, that leaves the community, the public, feeling helpless, feeling angry, feeling anxious about their capacity to do anything."

His initiative creates an outreach system that allows citizens to assist in clearing the streets by directing those without shelter to medical, mental and housing services. Details about the governor’s full 90-day plan, such as how it will be funded, won’t be disclosed until next month, but this move represents another phase in Hawaii’s proactive approach to helping the homeless.

During the 2010 fiscal year, a report from the University of Hawaii’s Center on the Family found that nearly 13,900 people in the state experienced homelessness and received outreach or shelter services, an increase of 3 percent from the previous year.

But this is an issue that won’t go away. Back in 2004, Hawaii was named the third “meanest state” in its treatment of homeless people, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. According to the report:

At the end of May 2004, the State of Hawaii adopted one of the nation’s severest penalties to discourage people from living on public property. Act 50, which relates to criminal trespassing, charges an individual with criminal trespass in the second degree if the person enters or remains on public property after receiving a written request to leave.

"We've come dangerously close to accepting the homeless as a problem that we just can't solve," former Gov. Linda Lingle told the Pacific Business News. "We need to face this."

In the subsequent years, her administration made significant strides to help end homeless in Hawaii with critical strategies, such as opening several emergency shelters and transitional housing facilities.

It goes without saying that homelessness is not unique to Hawaii. And the recession has only made it worse due to housing costs and foreclosure rates, among other factors. Across the country, the number of homeless people grew by 3 percent (about 20,000 people) between 2008 and 2009, and the number of homeless families increased 4 percent, according to the 2011 report, State of Homelessness in America by the National Alliance to End Homelessness. According to a Reuters report, homelessness reached a record high last year in New York City.

As Hawaii continues to search for solutions for homelessness, Abercrombie’s initiative not only brings together state and county government and social service providers, but now residents also can play a role by notifying an organization about a homeless person or group (For the record, they can only encourage treatment and can’t force anything on anyone). It remains to be seen what the rest of his plan will look like, but pushing the public to get involved is a good first step.